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The Voyage Of The Beagle (1839)

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Author Topic: The Voyage Of The Beagle (1839)  (Read 2154 times)
Deanna Witmer
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« Reply #195 on: February 09, 2009, 01:20:14 am »

[4] Among these few insects, I was surprised to find a small Aphodius (nov. spec.) and an Oryctes, both extremely numerous under dung. When the island was discovered it certainly possessed no quadruped, excepting perhaps a mouse: it becomes, therefore, a difficult point to ascertain, whether these stercovorous insects have since been imported by accident, or if aborigines, on what food they formerly subsisted. On the banks of the Plata, where, from the vast number of cattle and horses, the fine plains of turf are richly manured, it is vain to seek the many kinds of dung-feeding beetles, which occur so abundantly in Europe. I observed only an Oryctes (the insects of this genus in Europe generally feed on decayed vegetable matter) and two species of Phanaeus, common in such situations. On the opposite side of the Cordillera in Chiloe, another species of Phanaeus is exceedingly abundant, and it buries the dung of the cattle in large earthen balls beneath the ground. There is reason to believe that the genus Phanaeus, before the introduction of cattle, acted as scavengers to man. In Europe, beetles, which find support in the matter which has already contributed towards the life of other and larger animals, are so numerous that there must be considerably more than one hundred different species. Considering this, and observing what a quantity of food of this kind is lost on the plains of La Plata, I imagined I saw an instance where man had disturbed that chain, by which so many animals are linked together in their native country. In Van Diemen's Land, however, I found four species of Onthophagus, two of Aphodius, and one of a third genus, very abundantly under the dung of cows; yet these latter animals had been then introduced only thirty-three years. Previous to that time the kangaroo and some other small animals were the only quadrupeds; and their dung is of a very different quality from that of their successors introduced by man. In England the greater number of stercovorous beetles are confined in their appetites; that is, they do not depend indifferently on any quadruped for the means of subsistence. The change, therefore, in habits which must have taken place in Van Diemen's Land is highly remarkable. I am indebted to the Rev. F. W. Hope, who, I hope, will permit me to call him my master in Entomology, for giving me the names of the foregoing insects.

[5] Monats. der Konig. Akad. d. Wiss. zu Berlin. Vom April, 1845.

[6] I have described this Bar in detail, in the Lond. and Edin. Phil. Mag., vol. xix. (1841), p. 257.


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